Pols find public-private pugilism the sport to play
More than one ambitious U.S. governor has found a nontraditional way of winning social media clicks and free applause.
Just by targeting the right private company in public, elected executives can score points in the nation's culture wars — perhaps without risking jobs and revenue.
On March 6, California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, tweeted that “California won’t be doing business with Walgreens or any company that cowers to the extremists and puts women’s lives at risk.” The company had decided not to distribute mifepristone, the “abortion” pill banned in some states but declared legal in others.
But Newsom’s state has since, in fact, done business with Walgreens. His administration was legally bound to do so under a $54 million contract between the major pharmacy chain and the state's massive Medicaid program called Medi-Cal.
At first, Newsom said, the Walgreens contract wouldn’t be renewed. But last month, a governor’s spokesman was quoted as saying Walgreens has been reinvited to apply for a contract. There are federal rules involved in the selection of these contractors.
Nationally, the mifepristone issue is still in court. But at the end of the day, Newsom, who’s believed to have presidential ambitions, may not care about the contract, having won a headline for seeking to protect abortion rights. New York Gov. Kathy Hochul also waved the abortion rights banner by questioning the decision by Walgreens but did not threaten to sever ties with the company.
Newsom and Hochul sit atop deep-blue states. But the Walgreens drama in Sacramento seems like a quicker version of the one that Florida’s GOP governor, Ron DeSantis, has been staging for some time against The Walt Disney Co. The core of that feud also fits the culture wars of the day.
Last year, DeSantis’ office took control of the special Walt Disney World taxing district that decades ago converted roughly 25,000 acres of swampland into that nation’s largest single-site employer with billions of dollars in economic activity.
The takeover grew out of the Disney company’s opposition to DeSantis' so-called "Don't say gay" law which now bars sexual orientation or gender identity instruction in pre-K through eighth grade.
DeSantis has taken other steps that Disney in a lawsuit calls a “targeted campaign of government retaliation.” DeSantis, who's preparing to run for president, likes to needle Disney in his red-meat speeches.
This echoes two years ago when Georgia lawmakers voted to revoke a major tax break for Delta Air Lines after that corporation’s chief executive criticized measures to restrict ballot access in the state.
Both major parties have looked to politically punish private entities. One week after the Capitol insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021, New York City moved to cut business ties with the then-president’s company. Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city “will not be associated with those unforgivable acts in any shape, way or form, and we are immediately taking steps to terminate all Trump Organization contracts."
In Albany, Hochul drew her biggest spate of fiscal criticism not for cracking down on a particular big business but for catering to one — her hometown Buffalo Bills football team with a lush stadium deal involving $1.4 billion in taxpayer funds.
But while it stirred controversy, the arguably cozy Bills deal fit a more traditional vein, carried out in the name of economic development. The recent political punishments in Sacramento, Tallahassee, Atlanta and New York City are part of a newer dynamic that one might call the Public-Private Sparring Partnership.
Columnist Dan Janison's opinions are his own.